Barbenheimer: Gerwig's Barbie and Nolan's Oppenheimer Clash and Conquer at the Box Office
It wasn’t “The Flash” or any other superhero sequel. Not even Tom Cruise and the latest stunt-driven “Mission Impossible” could garner the kind of buzz the double feature known as Barbenheimer has amassed. Of course, that’s Greta Gerwig’s pop culture “Barbie” starring Margot Robbie as the iconic doll and auteur filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s epic historical talking drama “Oppenheimer.” Releasing on the same day, catering to distinctly different audiences, both flourishing with creativity and originality. Distributed by rival studios Warner Bros (“Barbie”) and Universal (“Oppenheimer”), not even the greatest PR stuntman could have imagined how social media would create such a marketing tool. Instead of rivalry, it became a double-ticket event.
Cinemas are also cashing in, actively scheduling the showtimes so patrons can see both films, which results in over five hours of continuous viewing if you choose. Should you see the two most talked about movies in one sitting? It’s a jolting experience going from a comedy full of color and performances to such an intense wartime experience. Both filmmakers are challenging themselves in new ways that pay off in dividends. Following the success of “Lady Bird” and “Little Women,” “Barbie” is the most commercial and big-budget outing for actress turned Oscar-nominated director. The creativity in the script by Gerwig and their husband, Noah Baumbach, is the highlight and will surely garner awards consideration in that category.
“Oppenheimer,” which chronicles the creation of the atomic bomb, is the most actor-friendly, performance-focused film of Nolan’s career. You expect stunning cinematography and mind-blowing sound stables in a Nolan experience. Yet this time, it’s the performances that are most impressive. Cillian Murphy, who plays Oppenheimer, Emily Blunt at Kitty Oppenheimer, and Robert Downey, Jr. as Lewis Strauss, deliver their best work. Nolan’s ability to create such sharp tension and suspense in a film mostly made up of characters in various rooms talking is quite an achievement. Like with most of his movies, there is a lot of information, textures, and layers that require ultimate focus from the viewer and likely repeat viewings.
“Barbie” is not a kids’ movie, and the restlessness of children in the theater proves you should leave the kids at home. “Why is everyone laughing, Mommy” I heard repeatedly at previews around the country. Ryan Gosling, who plays Ken, makes it very clear to his girlfriend Barbie that “it’s always Barbie & Ken, never just Ken.” Yet it might be Gosling who lands the acting accolades for the movie. Gerwig’s take on the male doll is one of the cleverest creations in the film. Gosling’s role allows him to expose acting talent we haven’t seen from him before. His performance is the heartbeat of the film. The style, and attention to Mattel’s history with the iconic toy, Gerwig, has created something that will have people talking for some time.
“Oppenheimer” is the more significant achievement, not that we need to compare the two. It’s one of the largest ensemble casts ever assembled, scattered with actors Nolan has worked with in the past, some of the very best character actors, and up-and-coming talent. If the film’s first hour is about how to build it, the second-hour answers that question, while the third is about if we should have it in the first place. It’s a captivating deep dive into history, morality, and a guilty conscious. Barbenheimer will continue to be discussed throughout the year as both films will resurface and compete against each other during awards season.